They did not have a productive working relationship, according to Republicans who worked with both men, and each harbored a disdain for the other that was seemingly driven by cultural stereotypes and their perceptions of each other. They share little in their upbringings, careers, faiths or lifestyles.
“There are significant cultural differences between them that only make their contempt for each other more severe,” said Jason Cabel Roe, a Republican strategist who has worked with both men and is now supporting Perry. “Perry comes from a rural, working-class background — up by the bootstraps, work hard to survive and make it. Romney was a guy who was born to pretty good economic circumstances and only made his personal economic circumstances better over the course of his professional career.”
This dynamic manifested itself in a particularly caustic clash at Tuesday’s debate in Las Vegas, with Perry attacking Romney so personally and persistently over his hiring of a lawn-care company that employed illegal immigrants that Romney, for once, lost his cool. He was testy in his responses and appeared agitated. He tried to speak over Perry to finish his points, placed his hand on Perry’s shoulder to quiet him and appealed to the moderator, CNN's Anderson Cooper, to referee the fight.
Romney’s political advisers said the moment projected strength — that the candidate could defend himself and would not be so easily bullied. But to some of his longtime friends, the exchange was a bit worrisome.
“It looked thin-skinned. It looked visibly provoked,” said one friend, who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to be frank about Romney’s performance. “I don’t think he has a temper as much as he thinks he’s always right.”
“Mitt is a very reserved man, and the fact that he was raising his voice and making his point in a somewhat excessive manner was, in my mind, a little different than the way I’ve always seen him behave,” said another friend who has known Romney for decades. “I just think he was so frustrated, he wanted to prove his point.”
Perry signaled from the moment he walked onstage at the Venetian hotel’s convention center Tuesday night that he was armed for combat with Romney. Introducing himself to the audience, the Texas governor labeled himself “an authentic conservative — not a conservative of convenience,” drawing an immediate contrast with Romney, whose positions on such issues as abortion and same-sex marriage have changed over the years.
The two battled on a range of topics. At one point, it seemed they might be at loggerheads over religion, too, until Romney accepted Perry’s denouncement of a Texas evangelical pastor’s remarks calling Mormonism, Romney’s faith, “a cult.”